As the U.S. prepares for its first major test of the 2012 U-20 campaign, we’ve got our first real preview of what our U-20 World Cup roster might be. And as usual some people like it, some people don’t, and most couldn’t care less because it’s almost International Crepes Week for the USWNT. Since this is Cross-Conference, we do care. I care a lot, because these are the teams I “collect.”
Think of the U-20s in terms of music. If the 2006 group can be called the “rock stars” that went to Russia, then 2008 was the indie sensation that went to Chile, and 2010 was the pop stars that went to Germany — and ultimately found themselves lip syncing in front of sold-out crowds.
Kids these days, right?
Before we talk about what kind of music 2012 could be making, let’s look back at that incredibly disappointing U-20 cycle of 2010. We could talk their manager’s (Head Coach Jill Ellis’) line-up and subbing decisions to death, but with someone new at the helm in 2012, my focus right now is on the players.
The 2010 journey really starts back in 2008, with the inaugural U-17 Women’s World Cup in New Zealand. This was a very special group, as US Soccer gave them preferential coverage over the U-20 team. In fact, the 2008 U-17s were given nearly the same treatment as the 2006 U-20s. Let’s extrapolate: we know that the 2008 U-20s were neglected by US Soccer in more areas than just media coverage, and we know that the 2006 U-20s were spoiled by US Soccer in more areas than just media coverage — so let’s assume it was much the same for the 2008 U-17s, since we know they were definitely treated better than the 2008 U-20s.
Now, let’s look at that 2008 U-17 Women’s World Cup roster:
GOALKEEPERS (3): Alexa Gaul, Jennifer Pettigrew, Taylor Vancil
DEFENDERS (6): Amber Brooks, Cloee Colohan, Crystal Dunn, Alexis Harris, Rachel Quon, Julia Roberts
MIDFIELDERS (8): Kate Bennett, Morgan Brian, Elizabeth Eddy, Olivia Klei, Mandy Laddish, Kristie Mewis, Samantha Mewis, Erika Tymrak
FORWARDS (4): Tani Costa Hayley Brock, Vicki DiMartino, Samantha Johnson, Courtney Verloo
Flash forward to 2010. The majority of these kids are U-20 eligible. Given that Ellis is back at the helm (after abandoning the 2008 U-20s, who ultimately won their World Cup in spite of US Soccer) and given that US Soccer decided they could invest some energy in covering the U-20s again, let’s look at the 2010 CONCACAF Championship team:
GOALKEEPERS (2): Bianca Henninger, Taylor Vancil
DEFENDERS (6): Amber Brooks, Vicki DiMartino, Crystal Dunn, Kendall Johnson, Toni Pressley, Rachel Quon
MIDFIELDERS (8): Zakiya Bywaters, Elizabeth Eddy, Kristie Mewis, Samantha Mewis, Christine Nairn, Teresa Noyola, Jenna Richmond, Casey Short
FORWARDS (4): Maya Hayes, Sydney Leroux, Morgan Marlborough, Tiffany McCarty
Highlight the eight carryovers from the 2008 U-17s: Amber Brooks, Vicki DiMartino, Crystal Dunn, Elizabeth Eddy, Kristie Mewis, Sam Mewis, Rachel Quon, and Taylor Vancil. But wait! We also have two 2008 U-20s: Christine Nairn and Sydney Leroux.
Now filter out the keepers. Goalkeepers are outliers in these discussions, because by virtue of having only one on the field at a time and at most three on the roster, they become a minority and function differently. (Also because Vancil’s career has been rather unusual and somewhat confusing so far.)
In fact, isolate the forwards. These are strikers, goal scorers. There is a certain mentality to that, and a certain amount of ego. As nice and humble players can be, as good as they are at talking to the media and public, you can see that they have to embody self-confidence and a competitive attacking spirit to succeed on the field.
Some players are able to balance this forward mentality with other responsibilities. Some aren’t. I think we saw this in the conversion of DiMartino to the backline. That was an even worse fit for her than it is for Kelley O’Hara right now.
Some players don’t need to balance. We saw this in Leroux, who stayed at her forward position, was given a leadership role, and retained 2008’s star status under her college and U-20 coach, Ellis.
The 2010 qualifiers were, on paper, successful. The US cruised through to the title. The Americans hoisted the trophy, praises were sung, and everyone went home happy. This is exactly what was expected of any US team.
Watching these games revealed some flaws in the US approach that could stand to be fixed; there was plenty of time before the U-20 World Cup. In camps and games that we were unable to see, the U-20s continued to perform, and even had a helpful stumble or two that they promised to learn from.
So here is the 2010 U-20 Women’s World Cup squad:
GOALKEEPERS (3): Adrianna Franch (Oklahoma State; Salina, Kan.), Bryane Heaberlin (Clearwater Chargers; St. Petersburg, Fla.), Bianca Henninger (Santa Clara; Los Gatos, Calif.)
DEFENDERS (5): Sade Ayinde (Maryland; North Bellmore, N.Y.) Mollie Pathman, Crystal Dunn (North Carolina; Rockville Centre, N.Y.), Kendall Johnson (Portland; Portland, Ore.), Toni Pressley (Florida State; Melbourne, Fla.), Rachel Quon (Stanford; Lake Forrest, Ill.)
MIDFIELDERS (8): Amber Brooks (North Carolina; New Hope, Pa.), Zakiya Bywaters (UCLA; Las Vegas, Nev.), Kristie Mewis (Boston College; Hanson, Mass.), Samantha Mewis (Scorpions SC; Hanson, Mass.), Christine Nairn (Penn State; Bowie, Md.), Teresa Noyola (Stanford; Palo Alto, Calif.), Jenna Richmond (UCLA; Centreville, Va.), Casey Short (Florida State; Naperville, Ill.)
FORWARDS (5): Vicki DiMartino (Boston College; Massapequa, N.Y.), Maya Hayes (Penn State; West Orange, N.J.), Sydney Leroux (UCLA; Phoenix, Ariz.), Tiffany McCarty (Florida State; Laurel, Md.) Meg Morris, Courtney Verloo (Stanford; Tualatin, Ore.)
- UCLA players on the U-20 squad for the UCLA coaches: 4; Bywaters, S. Mewis, Richmond, Leroux. All forwards and midfielders.
- Players retained from qualifiers: 1 goalkeeper, all 6 defenders (with 2 moved to other positions), 7 of 8 midfielders, and essentially all of the forwards, although McCarty would be replaced for medical reasons.
- Late addition from the 2008 U-17s: Courtney Verloo, who admitted to struggling after the 2008 cycle and in her freshman year at Stanford, which would explain her absence from the CONCACAF roster.
- Carryover from the 2010 U-17s: Bryane Heaberlin (the new Ashlyn Harris).
- 2008 U-17s that didn’t miss a beat: (so to speak) 6; Dunn, Brooks, DiMartino, K. Mewis, S. Mewis, and Quon.
- Christine Nairn and Sydney Leroux, two players in senior/leadership positions
So, what did we see from this 2010 team in their World Cup? A great keeper, a decent enough backline, not enough Teresa Noyola, a whole lot of Kristie Mewis’ ability to save the team on the field, and very little adjustment when it was sorely needed. Arguably, a culture of entitlement that bred stubborn complacency and caused the US to struggle despite the talent level and past success.
In my next post, I’ll talk about how 2008 and 2010 (both U-20s and U-17s) could be used in interpreting 2012′s U-20 campaign, which could wind up being much less of a disaster than we foreshadowed for their pop star predecessors.